ICJ Israel Ruling and the 1984 Judgment Against the US

To gauge how South Africa’s genocide case against Israel might play out, Nat Parry looks back 40 years to a case that Nicaragua brought against Washington in the U.N. court.   

U.S. President Ronald Reagan addressing U.N. General Assembly in September 1983. (UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata)

By Nat Parry
Special to Consortium News

Now that the International Court of Justice has ruled that South Africa’s claims of genocide against Israel are plausible and ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope” of the U.N. Convention on Genocide, the question is how Israel and its backers will respond. 

Israel has one month to submit a report on the steps it is taking to comply with the court’s orders. Although the court has no enforcement mechanism, the orders are mandatory and substantially increase the international pressure on Israel and its supporters. ICJ judgments are final and without appeal.

If Israel does not comply, the issue may go to the U.N. Security Council where the United States will have to decide whether to exercise its veto. If that effort fails, it could then go to the General Assembly, where the U.S. has no veto, and the result could be an overwhelming — and deeply embarrassing — vote supporting the ICJ’s ruling. 

Some allies of Israel have called for compliance with it. “The International Court of Justice did not rule on the merits of the case but ordered provisional measures in interim proceedings,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said. “These are binding under international law. Nevertheless, Israel must also comply with them.” 

The United States, on the other hand, dismissed the notion that actions in the Gaza Strip constitute genocide. “We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded and note the court did not make a finding about genocide or call for a ceasefire in its ruling and that it called for the unconditional, immediate release of all hostages being held by Hamas,” a State Department spokesperson said.

So far, the reaction from Israel has been predictably bellicose, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying on Saturday that the allegations of genocide against Israel are “ridiculous” and demonstrate “that many in the world have not learned a thing from the Holocaust.” The main lesson of the Holocaust, he said, “is that only we will defend ourselves by ourselves. Nobody will do it for us.”

Looking to the Past

Nov. 26, 1984: Court of International Justice in The Hague considering the case of Nicaragua vs. the United States concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. (UN Photo)

For an idea of how this might play out, it might be useful to look to the past, in particular a World Court case from 40 years ago.

In 1984, Nicaragua brought suit against the U.S. in the World Court in relation to U.S. policies of arming, training and financing the contra rebels who were fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, as well as mining the harbors of the small Central American nation. 

The United States, in justifying its policies, claimed that it was acting in Nicaragua only in “collective self-defense,” a justification that the court rejected by a vote of 12-3.

The court further overwhelmingly ruled that the United States,

“by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces … has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.” 

It determined that the United States had been involved in the “unlawful use of force,” with violations including attacks on Nicaraguan facilities and naval vessels, the invasion of Nicaraguan air space and the training and arming of the contras. 

The court also found that President Ronald Reagan had authorized the C.I.A. “to lay mines in Nicaraguan ports” and

“that neither before the laying of the mines, nor subsequently, did the United States Government issue any public and official warning to international shipping of the existence and location of the mines; and that personal and material injury was caused by the explosion of the mines.”

The U.S. was ordered to cease its activities and pay reparations.

Matter of Consent

Members of ARDE, The Democratic Revolutionary Alliance, part of the Contras network, in southeast Nicaragua, taking a break from fighting on Jan. 1, 1987. (Tiomono, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The response of the United States to this ruling was revealing. The U.S. essentially dismissed the ICJ judgment on the grounds that the United States must “reserve to ourselves the power to determine whether the Court has jurisdiction over us in a particular case” and what lies “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States.” 

In other words, the Reagan administration considered armed attacks against the sovereign state of Nicaragua within its “domestic jurisdiction.”

Undeterred, Nicaragua then brought the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where the Nicaraguan representative argued that recourse at the ICJ was one of the fundamental means of peaceful solution of disputes established by the U.N. Charter.

He further emphasized that it was essential for the Security Council and the international community to remind the United States of its obligation to abide by the court’s ruling and cease its war against Nicaragua.

The United States responded that the jurisdiction of the ICJ was a matter of consent and that the U.S. had not consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ in this case. The ambassador asserted that U.S. policy towards Nicaragua would be determined solely by the national security interests of the United States, noting that Nicaragua maintained close security ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union.

On Oct. 28, 1986, the U.S. vetoed the resolution calling for full and immediate compliance with the ICJ’s judgment, with France, Thailand and the United Kingdom abstaining.

Following this decision, Nicaragua turned to the General Assembly, which passed a resolution 94-to-3 calling for compliance with the World Court ruling. Only two states, Israel and El Salvador, joined the U.S. in opposition.

A year later, on Nov. 12, 1987, the General Assembly again called for “full and immediate compliance” with the ICJ decision. This time only Israel joined the United States in opposing adherence to the ruling.

Needless to say, the United States never recognized its obligation to adhere to the ruling, continuing to assert that it did not consent to the ICJ’s jurisdiction. 

The case led to a flurry of criticism from international law experts, with Noreen M. Tama writing at the Penn State International Law Review that “the International Court of Justice is the final authority on the issue of its own jurisdiction.”

She pointed out that “the Court was clearly seized of the requisite incidental jurisdiction necessary to indicate interim measures in the case of Nicaragua v. United States.”

Anthony D’Amato, writing for The American Journal of International Law, argued that

“law would collapse if defendants could only be sued when they agreed to be sued, and the proper measurement of that collapse would be not just the drastically diminished number of cases but also the necessary restructuring of a vast system of legal transactions and relations predicated on the availability of courts as a last resort.”

This, he said, would be “a return to the law of the jungle.”

Whether the current case against Israel plays out similarly to the 1984 case is a major test for the international system, and specifically which reigns: the law of the jungle or the “rules-based international order” that the U.S. frequently champions. 

Nat Parry is the author of the forthcoming book Samuel Adams and the Vagabond Henry Tufts: Virtue Meets Vice in the Revolutionary Era. He is editor of American Dispatches: A Robert Parry Reader.

Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

25 comments for “ICJ Israel Ruling and the 1984 Judgment Against the US

  1. Sam F
    January 30, 2024 at 19:38

    Thank you, Nat, for this very useful review of the 1984 Contra case.
    The question should be examined, why the US supports Israel at all?
    Israel offers zero advantages to the US in oil security, shipping security, or moral high ground.
    It is the primary Mideast problem of the US in these areas. It does not even serve as a military base.
    The US would be far better off in all of these areas if we dumped Israel altogether.
    Those Christian fundamentalists, deceived that they are basically Judaists, should be educated, not indulged.
    The absurd propaganda that those who oppose special privileges for Jews are racists, needs to be discredited.
    Many here are intimidated by threats of accusations from the highly organized zionists and their opportunists.
    The mass media propagate these threats and false virtue-signalling because they are seeking profits.
    It appears that the US alliance is based solely upon massive bribes fed back from US aid to political parties.
    These fundamental abuses of public office in the US should be investigated and exposed.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 31, 2024 at 17:04

      First to Sam F I have been reading Robert Parry’s American Dispatches on and on for some time now, I’m about a third of the way through it. These days I read quite a lot more than ever before.

      I see from your comment here you enjoyed this article by Nat. I would strongly suggest you get a copy of the American Dispatches, even if only from a library or check it out in a book store. I’m 75 and I lived and tracked this history the best I could while much of this history unfolded.

      Anyone truly interested in this history needs to acquire the book and peruse the pages.

      I am continually impressed by Bob’s knowledge of his material. So much so I get overwhelmed at points with what he reveals in this book. A book that should be required reading for every high school senior and political science major. I should have finished it by now, however I am triggered by what I read in American Dispatches to cross reference what I read there with other books I’m interested in. The book is a treasure trove of information and impressed me so much by what Bob knew and was about.

      You are so on-target here with your comments. Great call on recognizing that the U.S. government gives Israel enough money to buy the congress. Please go check out the Israellobby.Archives. President JFK and Robert Kenney were working on what your last line addresses by 1962.

      Thanks to you and CN for caring so much.

      • C. Parker
        January 31, 2024 at 20:03

        I am in full agreement with your opinion of American Dispatches. The book is a compilation of Bob Parry’s articles well selected by his son, Nat. I have read American Dispatches several times, reading it by the particular topics Parry so courageously covered. I began with Parry’s intelligent explanation about the Russiagate hoax, then moved onto to different topics. I keep it by my bedside and find myself reading late into the evening. I am close to your age, Robert, but my intake of politics was from newspapers, NPR and PBS, Boy, was I poorly informed now that I compare what I thought I knew to the excellent reporting to what Bob Parry had dedicated his life in bringing the people the truth.

        I have purchased over twenty copies. It makes the best gift to those who wish to learn more or think they know it all.

        Thank you Nat. Also, I am so grateful to this online news organization Robert Parry started in 1995,

  2. Riva Enteen
    January 30, 2024 at 19:36

    “…United States must ‘reserve to ourselves the power to determine whether the Court has jurisdiction over us in a particular case…'”

    That is what needs to change.

    Written before Oct 7, about Ukraine, but the same question urgently applies:

  3. robert e williamson jr
    January 30, 2024 at 18:26

    How soon we forget. I will persist taunting the reading audience.

    JFK murdered Nov 22, 1963, the U.S. Governments aids CIA in the coverup.

    LBJ takes over and ensures Vietnam becomes a brutal quagmire of a meat grinder forty year war. A war JFK clearly wanted out of by 1962.

    LBJ, a beaten man quits politics. Good bye and good riddance. 1963 – 1969

    RMN 1969 – 1974 Runs from office claiming he isn’t a crook but a victim of people kicking him around. He made the critical mistake of taking on the CIA and they made short work of him letting him become his own worst enemy. Brings Congress down on CIA who show the Congress who really is the boss.

    G Ford 1974 – 1977 plays CIA style hardball with Nixon and grants him a full and absolute pardon very early on in his time in office, date Sept 8, 1974, in my opinion the pardon sets a precedent and sets a trend for the future miscarriage of justice by the executive level. The entire time Bush 41 is hanging around in the shadows. Jan 30, 1976 he appoints GHWB to Director of CIA. For one year, perfect!

    1977 – 1981, Jimmy “Good ole’ Boy” Carter never knew what hit him. A D.C., outsider, everyone including Richard Helms has his way with him and it is ugly, stirring the pot in the middle east. The MSM for the first time I remember since LBJ American dead body counts, and Vietnam, opens every evening broadcast quoting the dismal economic numbers. In the wink of an eye Carter is gone.

    CIA and J H W Bush hit the ground running, running amok again in very short order. SEE BCCI scandal. From now on “the fix is in, when it comes Presidential politics, here comes Ronnie Ray Gun, hold on to your pocket books.

    The stage for the future of the NEOCONs. Time for the pillaging of the masses to begin in earnest. Read the history of the economy during this period for yourself, if you didn’t live it. Oil will begin to control everyone’s lives.

    40 & 41 oversee the early beginning of the Oil Wars by playing GOD and supplying both Iran and Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. IMHO The practice casts an ugly pall on the Character of our leadership and the character of our country. Reagan 1981-1989 and then GHW Bush 89-93 and reagan-nomics damn near kills the middle class.

    42 Slick Willy, the times are booming and little or no debt, somehow selling out made him very successful I guess.

    The rest amounts to a pretty total breakdown in how government should work. Obama, no fool, decides life is better than personal values, serve two terms and the orange turd shows up. After Obama no seems up to standing up to the intelligence community.

    Time for a really big change in our government, back to a representative form instead of the secret authoritarian dysfunctional bullshit we have currently.

    Resist with everything you have in you, this is no time for quitters. Giving up is no option kiddies.

    Thanks CN

  4. Lois Gagnon
    January 30, 2024 at 17:01

    It has become painfully obvious that it is ultimately up to the people of the world to force the issue. If enough of us decide this game of thrones is over and act on it, it will be over. That of course, involves risk, but how big is the risk of not acting?

  5. Guy St Hilaire
    January 30, 2024 at 15:37

    In vain statements of hubris ,US politicians have often stated the exceptionalism of the American people ,very similarly with the Israeli statements of chosen-ness .How to change the mentality of such arrogance in a new world that is being born with respect and sovereignty for all citizens and nations of a free world . Our only hope is for the hypocrisy to become so visible and repugnant in the former , for self destruction to be the last act .

  6. Perry Mason
    January 30, 2024 at 15:28

    Seriously, does anyone believe that if this court were to issue, by some miracle, a firm ruling that the genocide must end and the the resolutions of the UNSC (with numbers like 242) must be respected, that Israel or the United States would actually obey?

    The thing about the people who commit genocide, they usually don’t stop just because a piece of paper asks them nicely to please stop. The same goes for people who are committed to a world war for world domination. Asking nicely usually does not stop them. I would like to see a list of genocides that were stopped by people asking nicely. Or a list of the people who were committed to world domination, but who stopped because someone asked them nicely to please stop? The sorts of reasonable people who respond to others who ask nicely, are almost never the same people who commit Genocide and fight wars of world domination. Somehow, you don’t rise to be Leader of the Free World by listening to people who ask nicely.

    Israel is clearly committed to the course of Genocide. The members of their government clearly state this. The USA is clearly committed to a course of world domination of Wall Street, even if a world war is required. Nobody speaks of anything except a world where Russia has been defeated and where China has been contained. The Trump-Biden Deal of the Century Peace Plan was always based quietly upon the general erasure and thus the genocide of the Palestinians. America has openly rejected “international law”, especially the parts built to prevent world war, weapons of mass destruction and genocide, in favor of its “rules based order”.

    But please, lets all get together and ask nicely, … again.

  7. Perry Mason
    January 30, 2024 at 14:54

    If as we near the end of Month 4 of the Genocide of Gaza, any discussions of ‘how this might play out’ would thus assume that the genocide will be successfully completed by the genociders. If after four months of genocide, there is no movement towards stopping the genocide, and only discussions of the future of ‘how this might play out’, then the future of how this will play out will be building a Memorial Marker on the site of the mass graves,

    Genocide, you are either for it or agin it. People are dying, and this death is a one-way ticket.

    After the big European genocide of the 20th century, it was common for the next generation to recall the old expression that said “All it takes for Evil to triumph is for the Good to do nothing.” Or something like that.

    At some point, it becomes rather obvious that these courts are an excuse for people to do nothing, while casting illusions that somebody else will someday do something, eventually, someday. The capitalist west has destroyed and corrupted every UN institution. Even the capitalists no longer speak of “international law”, but instead of the “Rules Based Order”. And they fully declare that everything that is happening is perfectly ok under their Rules Based Order. Its hard to think of a proponent of this “rules based order” who has stood up against the slaughter. These courts are a charade, a soporific, to put everyone to sleep while the genocide continues.

  8. January 30, 2024 at 14:32

    Anyone who thinks that there is international justice has his head up his a…

    Only the defeated are convicted of war crimes, and almost always by the victors. Victors are never convicted of war crimes.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      January 31, 2024 at 00:11

      Good thing Hamas is kicking butt in Gaza, then.

  9. JonnyJames
    January 30, 2024 at 13:29

    Great summary and historical example. If past precedent is an indicator, Israel will not comply, and the US will veto any enforcement measure. The UN Gen. Ass,. may well vote overwhelmingly in favor of enforcement, however it will be ignored.

    Also, if my memory serves. UN Res. 242 was passed by the UNSC, in 1967 the US did not veto, yet Israel never complied. Israel still controls the WB, Gaza and Golan Heights illegally.

    So, even if a resolution to enforce the ICJ decision is NOT vetoed by the US, and passes the UNSC, Israel will still refuse and nothing will happen. At least, that’s the precedent that has long been set.

    As has been mentioned, sadly it is not the Rule of Law that prevails it is The Law of the Jungle. Fidel Castro saw that very clearly from where he sat.

    To be crude: “the law and taxes are only for the little people”

    Although not strictly on the UN level: Of course, another flagrant travesty of justice and abuse of the law is Julian Assange’s case. Contrast that with Tony Blair and Bush Jr. being treated like brilliant senior statesmen, rather than being indicted and prosecuted. (UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, did weigh-in on Assange’s treatment several times, yet has been ignored by the US/UK and vassals)

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      January 31, 2024 at 00:12

      Great comment. You make good points.

  10. rick sterling
    January 30, 2024 at 12:42

    Very good and timely article. Thank you Nat. It is especially revealing that Israel was the sole US backer in its refusal to accept the ICJ decision. Birds of a feather.

  11. BettyK
    January 30, 2024 at 12:15

    Bibi statement “The main lesson of the Holocaust, he said, “is that only we will defend ourselves by ourselves. Nobody will do it for us.” shows first of all that he and other Zionists will constantly bring up the Holocaust as a justification for any actions they want to take against anyone – Palestinians, Iranians, etc. Secondly, his statement that nobody will do it for them is a lie. The U.S. has its filthy hands in this genocide, and they should be included in this ICJ case just as they were in the Nicaragua case. In the end, even with a final judgement that this is indeed genocide, I doubt anything will be done to reign in the Zionists who by then will have accomplished their goal of eliminating Palestinians from their own land.

  12. Piotr Berman
    January 30, 2024 at 12:03

    Strangely enough, the claim “self-defense” by USA in respect to Nicaragua was violating a very specific US law, with bloody US funded Contra offensive in 1984, when Boland Amendment to US budget prohibited that, leading to work-arounds named “Iran Contra Affair”. Current aid and assistance to genocidal activities of Israel violates some domestic US laws too.

    Sadly, we have seen a considerable regress in USA and collective West since then. The political systems, media and courts allowed more criticism, opposition in legislatures or among allies etc. And Obama, in the beginning of his Administration, engaged in the very last attempt to oppose lawless behavior by Israel. The defeat of that effort discredited all moderate voices in Israel and led to ever more extreme oppression, dispossession and aggression.

  13. Jeff Harrison
    January 30, 2024 at 11:31

    This is exactly what caused the League of Nations to fail. It was unable to get the “great powers” to comply with the rules. However, 2024 is not 1987. The US might well find it substantially more difficult to ignore the ICJ today than 40 years ago.

  14. Andrew Thomas
    January 30, 2024 at 11:14

    Very good summary. This is especially important because, if this terrible episode has been recounted anywhere else, I haven’t seen it. If the rules-based international order didn’t start with the bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia, it definitely did with this outrage.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      January 31, 2024 at 00:14

      I remember the Nicaragua events. They led to Iran-Contra and Robert Parry was one of the first to expose that plot.

  15. torture this
    January 30, 2024 at 09:37

    The “rules-based international order” is a euphemism for “law of the jungle”.

  16. Michael G
    January 30, 2024 at 09:16

    Had a hard flash of cognitive dissonance reading the last sentence. The “law of the jungle” and “rules-based international order” the “U.S. frequently champions.” are the same thing.
    When it gets referred to the ICC, after the U.S. Veto in the Security Council, and the overwhelming vote in the General Assembly in support of the ICJ finding. And after the “deeply politically corrupt” British Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan of the ICC does not recognize Palestinian rights.
    Some new mechanism of International Law arises from the Global outrage.

  17. Vicky Cookies
    January 30, 2024 at 06:01

    A timely and comprehensive treatment of an ugly history, but the author misses badly at the end: the ‘rules-based international order’ is a euphemism for the ‘law of the jungle’; ‘international law’, referring to the laws of the United Nations, is its alternative, or a new framework, which will be necessary if the UN continues to prove toothless when the US or its allies violate the law.

  18. Precedent
    January 30, 2024 at 05:55

    “To gauge how South Africa’s genocide case against Israel might play out”

    Time and tide wait for no man, but that does not stop some hoping.

  19. firstpersoninfinite
    January 30, 2024 at 00:27

    Well, it’s the law of the jungle that shall reign supreme, surrounded by a Hollywood enclave of supporters in a ticker tape parade. the confetti falling on the upturned heads of Wall Street flunkies commanding fealty to their continued pre-eminence against even the minutest flicker of reason. That is the future for us all, except those who are already too enfeebled to matter. Who will give up their next season of streaming television for a world that makes sense? No one. If someone as stupid as Ronald Reagan and his insipid advisors can get around the proclamations of international justice, who can’t?

    • Precedent
      January 30, 2024 at 12:57

      ” That is the future for us all, except those who are already too enfeebled to matter.”

      You are likely mistaken likely facilitated by your mistake.

Comments are closed.